Recycling, reusing and recovering Indium, Silicon and Silver materials from photovoltaic (and other applications)

April 18, 2017
in Category: Circular Economy
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Recycling, reusing and recovering Indium, Silicon and Silver materials from photovoltaic (and other applications)

The main vision of CABRISS project is to develop a circular economy mainly for the photovoltaic, but also for electronic and glass industry. It will consist in the implementation of: (i) recycling technologies to recover In, Ag and Si for the sustainable PV technology and other applications; (ii) a solar cell processing roadmap, which will use Si waste for the high throughput, cost-effective manufacturing of hybrid Si based solar cells and will demonstrate the possibility for the re-usability and recyclability at the end of life of key PV materials. The developed Si solar cells will have the specificity to have a low environmental impact by the implementation of low carbon footprint technologies and as a consequence, the technology will present a low energy payback (about 1 year).
The originality of the project relates to the cross-sectorial approach associating together different sectors like the Powder Metallurgy (fabrication of Si powder based low cost substrate), the PV industry (innovative PV Cells) and the industry of recycling (hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy) with a common aim: make use of recycled waste materials (Si, In and Ag). CABRISS focuses mainly on a photovoltaic production value chain, thus demonstrating the cross-sectorial industrial symbiosis with closed-loop processes.

Photovoltaics (PV) are decidedly the poster-child for the energy revolution with dominating mainstream exposure. While PV has existed for over 70 years, its adoption as a potentially significant contributor to energy needs has only started to ramp up in the last 10 – 15 years. With such a recent market boom, most attention has been focused on production and deployment, which has grown exponentially in the last decade. Therefore, since inception of the PV technologies (1980), the total PV products disseminated throughout Europe represent now roughly 8 million tons of future PV waste!

In terms of waste flow management roadmap, the below shows the expected annual tonnage of end of life modules until 2020 i.e. at the time where the CABRISS project's outcomes will be available.

These forecasts considered that, even if PV modules are guaranteed up to 25 years, many users replace their PV installations before this theoretical end of life in order to take advantage of higher yields due to new technological improvements found in more recent modules. Such a behavior ends up with an average life span of 17 years for PV modules.

In addition to these products lifecycle considerations, a shorter term challenge for a PV waste recycling value chain targeted by CABRISS is to deal with the waste coming from installation breakage and production scrap which create a very large percentage of decommissioned panels and this will continue over the upcoming years as the quantity of installed capacities will continue to increase.

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